McDonnell Finally Weighs In; Will He Reappoint Dragas?

Yesterday’s two big events in the UVA debacle were Governor Bob McDonnell’s declaration that whatever Tuesday’s decision is, is final and Helen Dragas’ response to that letter. There were a couple of things of note in those two statements.

McDonnell’s letter to the Board of Visitors is all about acting as if he’s above the fray—he recommends no specific course of action regarding President Teresa Sullivan—but in reality he’s loading the dice. He calls on the members of the BOV to ignore what other people (faculty, staff, students, alumni, etc.) have to say, and just do what they want to do. Which sounds unbiased, but since these groups are unanimous in their support of Sullivan, it’s rather the opposite. He also says that whatever happens Tuesday is final—that the BOV is not allowed to change their minds any more. (Note that they have not yet changed their mind at all. Sullivan was forced out, and nothing has changed since.) What makes three a magic number, he does not say. This either indicates a pretty surprising disinterest in the outcome of a serious controversy at Virginia’s flagship university or that he has cause to think that the outcome is going to be his preferred one. McDonnell’s threat is that he’ll remove the entire Board of Visitors on Wednesday if they don’t get this settled. It doesn’t seem to make any sense for the BOV to ignore new information, as McDonnell’s demand explicitly requires. Even if the BOV found out on Wednesday that Sullivan is famed hijacker D.B. Cooper, McDonnell’s instructions would oblige them to ignore this knowledge and retain her as president. Both McDonnell and Dragas write in their statements that three BOV meetings are enough on this topic. Since Tuesday’s meeting will only be the second meeting of the BOV, that’s an odd assertion—it leaves room for yet another meeting, although it’d need to be squeezed in before Wednesday.

In her brief statement, Dragas unsurprisingly echoes McDonnell’s call to ignore the unanimous demand that Sullivan be reinstated (“we alone are appointed to make these decisions on behalf of the University, free of influence from outside political, personal or media pressure”).

Finally, a reliable source in the governor’s office yesterday told me that McDonnell intends to reappoint Dragas to the BOV on July 1, when her term expires. This sounds too dumb to be true, but after chewing it over, I think that there’s something to it. To be clear, the fact that I was told this doesn’t mean that it’ll happen. Not only could facts change that would cause McDonnell to not reappoint her, but the point may actually be to cause people (specifically the BOV and Sullivan) to believe that McDonnell would be willing to reappoint Dragas—that is, that the source was deliberately fed bad information. The Hook asked the governor’s spokesmen for a comment on this last night, and one responded saying that “the governor will make his decisions about board appointments in late June or early July”.

In a nutshell, the problem is that Sullivan has (ostensibly) said that she won’t return to the presidency unless Dragas steps down. So she’s left her fate in Dragas’ hands. If Dragas refuses to quit, Sullivan would refuse to retake the presidency. That would make Sullivan look petulant and Dragas look like the grown-up in the room. Sullivan loses and Dragas wins, and McDonnell is free to reappoint Dragas, with Dragas looking comparatively reasonable in the eyes of many. But if Sullivan drops the requirement of Dragas’ resignation (if it is, indeed, a requirement of hers), then Sullivan is victorious, Dragas feels like a fool, and McDonnell surely would not reappoint her. Sullivan can safely claim that she never demanded Dragas’ resignation—it was just a rumor. In either case, the governor has a week to test public response before deciding what to do.

In a hour-long, wide-ranging discussion, I chewed all of this over with dozens of people on Twitter last night. R. Cooper was kind enough to collect all of those tweets via Storify, which I’ve included after the jump for those who want to read the great discussion that we all had.

38 Responses to “McDonnell Finally Weighs In; Will He Reappoint Dragas?”


  • I agree with your assessement of McDonnell’s statements, and that he is leaving the door open to ratify President Sullivan’s dismissal, albeit in a mealy-mouthed way by emphasizing certain details while glossing over others. For example, take the following:

    “When arriving at its decision to ask for the resignation of President Sullivan, the Board of Visitors made procedural mistakes which its leaders have acknowledged, including a lack of transparency and a failure in communication. A vote to remove the President requiring two-thirds approval of the Board was not taken, and the multiple board meetings and the ensuing predictable press frenzy have created great uncertainty imperiling the University’s ability to move forward.”

    1. McDonnell glosses over the fact that the entire board did not in fact ask for President Sullivan’s Resignation. A very small minority of the board did, principally Dragas.

    2. This action was not a procedural mistake, but the penultimate step in a deliberately planned series of actions taken over months, and in secret, with the intent and purpose of forcing President Sullivan into proffering her resignation under false circumstances.

    3. The actual meeting called to accept the forced resignation was arranged under entirely false pretenses in defiance of the law to announce such a meeting publically.

    4. As McDonnell notes, the board then accepted the resignation without the requisite 2/3 approval, but, far from being a mistake, this was the ultimate and deliberate action of the month’s long campaign to literally steal the Presidency from Dr. Sullivan.

    (Apologies for rehashing established facts, but the Governor seems to have forgotten them.)

    And then McDonnell equates this purposeful deceit and theft to the confusion of “multiple board meetings and the ensuing predictable press frenzy”. Really, the lack of respect for the law implicit in this statement is astounding.

    The next paragraph attempts to cloak this embarrassingly withered legal respect with a patronizing admonition that we should he consider these events not as a war, but as a family squabble, invoking Jefferson as a father in absentia, looking down on us in remonstration for mistaking this difference of opinion for a difference in principle.

    But that’s exactly the problem, here. The entire situation was instigated by Dragas’ relentless disregard for the principles of honesty and law. Had her concerns been aired and addressed through honest and legal means, there would have been disagreement and discussion, but her actions, and the rest of the board’s inaction, have been so egregious that no other result was possible. Indeed, aside from a bit of paint splashed on some columns, the response has been remarkably civil. Some hard words have been spoken, and some crazy theories developed, but that’s what happens when those entrusted with governance for the public good break that trust.

    I agree with McDonnell on one point; this is not a war. However, it is a deep offense. Failing to recognize the outrage of such an offense is only throwing gasoline on a fire. I can only hope that the BOV takes his direction that “The only legitimate question now facing the board is: What leadership is required at UVA to continue to pursue increased excellence in the 21st century?” to include a just reflection on their own actions, recognize their misdeeds and the fact that they have proven incompetent to govern responsibly. Given their actions up to this point, this hope is a frail thing.

  • Now that there’s an interim President, wouldn’t the BoV need a supermajority to fire/suspend/accept the presumed resignation of the interim President to open the position for Sullivan to assume presidency again, or does the role of interim President simply disappear when a new(old) President is chosen. Also, I’m guessing that if McDonnell reappoints Dragas, she serves until the General Assembly does or does not confirm? If thats 6 months away then all of this, including the Veepstakes plays out before their input comes to bear.
    Here’s one more wild card: McDonnell could appoint a replacement for Kington before Tuesdays meeting to stack the deck, could he not?

  • There is no interim president at the moment. Dean Z revoked his acceptance of the job after the shit storm hit peak levels.

  • No, I think he just suspended activities related to assuming that job. Anyway, now that I think of it, he doesn’t fill that role til August 15 and Sullivan is still President, if only in name til then. But whats to stop McDonnell from filling Kington’s empty seat on Monday and crushing the dreams of everyone who’s counting on an 8-7 vote for reinstatement?

  • Great analysis, but I’d add two things that might contradict it.

    1) McDonnell lays great emphasis on the idea that he doesn’t interfere in personnel decisions, but does feel authorized to set policy decisions. That suggests that the BOV has no business appointing any grand visionary presidents, or making any radical changes, without the Governor’s okay.

    Even though Dragas isn’t singled out by name, she is clearly criticized. And, more importantly, McDonnell defends his own education policy, talking about the new appropriations he’s gotten for UVa and so on. That reads like a politician who feels he’s been criticized himself. He doesn’t want to hear that UVa is in crisis. More importantly, he doesn’t want voters hearing that either.

    2) Dragas’s response to McDonnell reads to me as defensive. She doesn’t sound like someone who feels completely supported. And in fact, if she really felt McDonnell had her back, she wouldn’t need to release another statement at all.

  • Here is the key to keep in mind every-time McDonnell speaks : 
    From the Kiernan email:

    “As you might expect, the decisions involving my modest role in all of this have not been entirely mine to make. As many of you know no major decision of this kind can be made at Virginia without the support and assent of the Governor. I am not sure what my future role in this process will be. Those are the facts.”

    http://www.readthehook.com/letters-darden-foundation-board-chair-peter-kiernan

  • Are appointments to the BOV immediate, or are they subject to legislative approval?

  • What McDonell and others are ignoring is the fact that UVa will effectively become ungovernable for at least a year if Dragas remains and Sullivan does not return as President.

    Sure, he can *say* that this will be the end of it, but it isn’t up to him. Even the University spokesperson, the heads of all of the colleges, the students, the faculty and the honor counsel are all lined up against Dragas and for Sullivan. They aren’t going to just drop the issue if Dragas is re-appointed and Sullivan isn’t brought back.

    Students love to protest. As big a storm as has been going on already, imagine what is waiting once the students come back this fall.

    We’re at the point now where if this board fails to return Sullivan I think they will literally be unable to set foot on campus without secrecy. They can’t go to football games anymore. They can’t appear at fundraisers and other functions. They’ll be mobbed, booed and protested. They will cease to be a part of the University community. The situation would be untenable for them.

    Furthermore, who would want the job of President now?

  • It’s my impression that the appointments are effective immediately but must be confirmed by the legislature, later (usually during the regular session that begins in January). I think that’s the way it’s always been done but haven’t checked the statutes.

    Regardless, the appointees need to be the most carefully scrutinized individuals in the history of the Commonwealth. It is imperative that they arrive at the University without a political agenda or an ideological fervor that would prevent sound governance.

  • Could someone in the know tell us if appointments to BOV need the approval of the legislature ?

  • A bit off topic, but please help to make this video viral: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMr3_wIQJNE. (If the link doesn’t work, please search YouTube for “Reinstate President Sullivan.”) According to the Hook, Carol Wood supposedly sent this link out this morning. All I received from her were texts of McDonnell’s communications to the BoV. I reckon I should give some props for his political maneuvering, but…no. I really feel for his sons; I hope they will not bear the brunt of disapproval that is rightfully his when (if?) they return to Grounds this fall.

    Hope to see all local commenters on the Lawn tomorrow from 2 – 4 pm to rally support for Team Terry!

  • Yes, appointees need to be OKd by the legislature in January. As a matter of course, the legislature signs off on the governor’s BOV appointees.

  • But is this situation a matter of course if McDonnell reappoints Dragas with the suspicion that he set her up to oust Sullivan ?

    Will the outrage go away and what happens when the full student body comes back and the board holds a meeting, will they continue to be greeted with calls of shame, please resign, you have hurt the University – please resign, every-time they meet if Dragas is there ?

    If McDonnell keeps Dragas I predict a firestorm of continuing outrage with no fire line to hold it back

  • @DoctorCleveland
    These are salient points also, and it is very interesting to note how the statement seems to be arguing both sides at once. Jonathan Swift would marvel at the Governor’s logical flexibility and wish only that he could have penned something as biting in one of his own satires.

  • So, it appears that newly-appointed BOV members immediately have full voting rights, even though their appointments are subject to later legislative confirmation?

  • So, it appears that newly-appointed BOV members immediately have full voting rights, even though their appointments are subject to later legislative confirmation?

    Based on my reading the law, it seems quite clear that this is the case. That said, what the law says and what actually transpires can sometimes be very different things, so I think it’s best for somebody with actual on-the-ground knowledge of this to weigh in, should such a person be reading this.

  • Though not surprising, the metadata from Dragas’ “letter” yesterday contained info that links it to her PR firm.

  • On another topic, anyone else surprised @ how little media attention has been focused on issue of SACS (accrediting agency) taking action on this? Seems to me the implications of SACS feeling the need to weigh in are significant (ly embarrassing, that is).

  • And Buford Scott feels that the Board has never gotten such condemnation in it’s history –

    http://www.newsplex.com/news/headlines/Buford_Scott_Sheds_Light__160065445.html

  • Waldo – If the Governor has any National level advisers, then I expect that by now they would have talked him out of re-appointing Dragas.

    Despite whatever trial balloons may have been floated, any outcome by the BOV other than re-instating President Sullivan and sacking Dragas is very likely to blow up in the Governor’s face. It would not surprise me if he has already called up Dragas and asked her to resign before Monday. That way, what the average guy/gal on the street will remember from all this is that the Governor made a strong, forceful statement on Friday and the problem went away on Monday. The media will congratulate him for doing the Right Thing, his favorability ratings will get a nice bump, and for about 95 percent of Virginia’s electorate, that will be the End of the Story.

    However, the longer this drags out – even if it only drags out until Tuesday, the more time the media will have to parse his letter and connect the dots with the leaked Kiernan email and all of the influence peddling, self dealing etc. that is at the heart of this. If the outcome is still uncertain Tuesday, people will not only be asking “What will the BOV do?” but also “Just how badly is the Governor mixed up in all of this?” OTOH, If the headline Monday is “Dragas Resigns”, most of these questions go away and he looks like the adult in the room.

    As to why then would he (or his advisers) float this balloon, I have a few possible theories:

    a) By doing so, he is hoping to to intimidate President Sullivan into accepting less authority (or possibly even drive her away from negotiations completely, as you suggest) as well as to intimidate faculty and tamp down the general enthusiasm and momentum by the community on this issue. I dont know President Sullivan, but from what I have seen and read so far, she strikes me as too smart to fall into such a crude trap like this. She has already played a tough hand extremely well and seems to have excellent advisers, as well as what seems to be an honest and professional commitment to help solve the many challenges that UVA faces.

    b) Some of his backers and/or advisers (particularly those who are ACTA True Believers) may actually think that keeping Dragas would be a good idea. Other advisers who have actual experience with running election campaigns may be sympathetic to the sentiment, but are highly skeptical that it would fly, and understand that it doesnt they could be out of work for a long time. So they decide to float this trial balloon to Waldo in particular, because they know that this site is read and commented on by politicos of both stripes, who will (mostly inadvertently) help them game out the pros and cons of such a move, as well as helping them identify any possible lines of attack that they would have to defend against, so that they can get their spin straight if they did attempt to pull such a move. To the first group of advisers I would say: Please tell us how your similar advice to Dragas worked our for her? Are her approval ratings even in integer numbers now? To the smarter advisers, I say: Good on ya. As soon as I see the Dragas’ resignation letter, I promise to head Larry Sabato’s advice and will STFU about this.

    c) The Governor really is a true believer, has only a superficial understanding of the recent events in Wisconsin, and thinks that maybe he could pull a Scott Walker on this. I think he’s smarter than this and I’m not even going to get into all the reasons this this would fail. Enough have already been listed by previous commentators, and those would not be the half of it. However, this is still a real enough possibility that we cant be at all complacent about the outcome and must not rest until justice is served. See you all tomorrow.

  • Some of his backers and/or advisers (particularly those who are ACTA True Believers) may actually think that keeping Dragas would be a good idea.

    This is a good point that I want to expand on for those who don’t understand. “The governor” is not actually monolithic. That statement may sound strange to some, but hear me out.

    Running a state or a country is more complicated that one person can manage, hence the staff. Holding informed opinions about all of the matters about which an executive is expected to have opinions isn’t feasible. So if a governor wants to know what he thinks about uranium mining, he may well ask a trusted advisor who has been assigned to the topic of mining issues what he thinks, and the advisor will tell him what to think about it. FWIW, I don’t think that there’s a thing wrong with this. If the governor has a good team, that advisor will know precisely the conclusion that the governor would come to after taking a few hours to explain the details, but the governor doesn’t have a few hours to spend on this. Sometimes the governor is cut out the loop entirely by people empowered to act on behalf of the governor in specific matters (notably, cabinet members). So these people get to say that the governor believes this and the governor is going to do that, even though they’re really saying what they’re going to do and what they believe. Which is fine, because they are acting as agents of the governor.

    The governor’s top advisors do not always agree (as you explain, Kevin). Sometimes some of them believe that the governor should do one thing, while others believe he should do the opposite. So they may tell people what the governor is going to do (regardless of what the actual plan is), and see what the reaction is. The governor may or may not know anything about that.

  • The opposition to Dragas just keeps growing. I can’t see McDonnel reappointing her in the face of al of that unless he’s afraid of her spilling the bean on him, but if he’s involved that’s going to come out anyway eventually.

    uvacmagazine.org/top_university_news/article/responses_to_president_sullivans_resignation

    Statement by the following members of the University of Virginia’s Council of Foundations in Support of President Sullivan

    June 23, 2012

    The Council of Foundations of the University of Virginia seeks to create an environment encouraging cooperation and collaboration between the different foundations, schools, units, and the Board of Visitors. It provides a voice from the members of the Council of Foundations to the Board of Visitors, allowing the Board of Visitors to communicate with and hear directly from the Council of Foundations.

    The Council of Foundations of the University of Virginia made up of representatives of fourteen the University’s separate alumni-supported foundations and representatives of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and the U.Va. Library, has come together to issue the following statement.

    As individual members of the Council of Foundations, we move unreservedly to support President Teresa Sullivan continuing as President of the University of Virginia.

    We also urge the foundations represented in the Council of Foundations to join us in issuing similar statements of support for President Sullivan remaining in her position.

  • Now, I’m just an old country lawyer; but I do have to ask myself why would his esteemed Excellency even consider reappointing Ms. Dragas.

    Well, it seems to me it would be one of two reasons.

    The first would be that he is a true believer, but his conduct during the last session of the General Assembly seems to rule that out. Transvaginal, personhood, a couple of those damned fool gun bills: they were killed (or emasculated, so to speak) quieter than A.L. Philpott and Ted Morrison used to kill bills on the night of long knives.

    And, the second? During the last 2 weeks I’ve learned that, more than I ever imagined, information is power. Perhaps, Ms. Dragas might know something that the Governor would never want known. If the origins of this disaster are are with him or someone in his administration, she has a mighty powerful bargaining chip.

  • I’m thinking the General Assembly won’t be giving any rubber stamps to BoV appointments next time around, especially a Dragas re-appointment.

    http://www.cavalierdaily.com/2012/06/23/letter-of-general-assembly-members-and-university-graduates-to-rector-dragas/

    Letter of General Assembly Members and University graduates to Rector Dragas

    By on June 23, 2012

    Below is a letter sent from members of either the House of Delegates or State Senate to University Rector Helen Dragas. All signees are University graduates.

    June 22, 2012

    An Open Letter to Helen E. Dragas, Rector

    University of Virginia

    As graduates of the University of Virginia and current members of Virginia’s General Assembly, we have watched with dismay the events surrounding the forced resignation of President Teresa Sullivan from the University of Virginia.

    The more information that has become available, the more troubling the action has become. The Board has yet to make clear the so-called “urgency” and “existential threats” to the University that have served as the justification for this action. Admittedly, the University has challenges, and they have clearly been identified by President Sullivan in her May 3, 2012 memo to the Rector and Vice Rector (a memo circulated by the Washington Post). But these challenges were known at the time of her appointment, and President Sullivan appeared to be making plans to address them.

    The fallout of the action is being felt by faculty and alumni alike. First, there was the vote of “no confidence” in the Board of Visitors passed by the Faculty Senate. Second, there were the reports that major donors are withdrawing their support of the University. Third, there are the resignations of several faculty “stars” and prospects of more in the near future. Finally, Vice-Rector Mark Kington’s resignation raises further questions about the process.

    Our conclusion is simple — the process by which President Sullivan was forced to resign was fundamentally flawed, dramatically at odds with our principles as the flagship University in the Commonwealth, and inconsistent with a transparent decision-making process required of a public University.

    We call on you to reconsider the decision and reconvene the Board for the purpose of reversing the forced resignation.

    We know you love this University and believe that the Board has simply misjudged the effect of this action. Now, you have the chance to limit this damage. We hope you will do so.

    Sincerely,

    The Honorable David J. Toscano
    House of Delegates, 57th District
    UVA Law ’86

    The Honorable Jennifer McClellan
    House of Delegates, 71st District
    UVA Law ’97

    The Honorable Joe Morrissey
    House of Delegates, 74th District
    UVA ’79

    The Honorable Ken Plum
    House of Delegates, 36th District
    UVA M.Ed.

    The Honorable Scott Surovell
    House of Delegates, 44th District
    UVA Law ’96

    The Honorable John Edwards
    Senate of Virginia, 21st District
    UVA Law ‘70

    The Honorable Mark Herring
    Senate of Virginia, 33rd District
    UVA ’83, MA ’87

    The Honorable Chap Petersen
    Senate of Virginia, 34th District
    UVA Law ‘94

  • the Governor weighed in today
    here’s what he had to say-
    the trouble is deep
    but I’m running for Veep
    So please make it go away

  • JWS, I vote for #2 the bargaining chip. And I sure hope some sharp reporter or a disgruntled employee lets this cat out – if true. I think we’ll know if he reappoints her that this is the case because there sure doesn’t seem to be political capitol in keeping her.

  • 2003 UVA Graduate

    Dragas’s response is predictable dross: she copy/pastes the Governor’s letter, and takes an opportunity to say “family” again. It’s easy to believe the PR firm wrote it.

    What I find more irritating is the way she hides behind the contract with Sullivan. Look at this: “I also agree with him on the importance of providing clear explanations of our actions… while being mindful of the … non-disparagement agreements…”

    In other words, Dragas has resorted to “I’d tell you why I conspired to oust Sullivan if I could, but her contract prevents me from telling you anything bad about her, so it’s not up to me. Just trust me, she needed to go.”

    Way to go, Dragas. You’re a real class act. Let’s see how much worse you can make this before Tuesday.

  • 2003 UVA Graduate

    By the way, Waldo, maybe you can just link to the Storify story instead of including it here. The infinite-scrolling-auto-loading effect makes it really hard to actually get to the comments section of this post. Personally, I also find it annoying to read a bunch of tweets — I gave up and just scrolled down. Not a big value add to this post.

  • As much as I love this site, leaking a trial balloon from a Republican Governor’s office on this topic to Waldo is either really silly or very smart. The level for future deniability is fantastically and believably high. I do think that Waldo’s points are well reasoned and logical. That does not make them true. (and I admit quite freely probably Waldo makes more sense then what I’m about to say)

    I agree with Kevin Lynch’s first point but with some differences. While reappointing Dragas seems counter intuitive (and I still think is nearly impossible) it seems there would only be one purpose to float this trial balloon- It’s so Dragas being gone is the one thing Sullivan might focus on to agree to come back. What none of us here know is what Sullivan will ask for as part of her return. With the Dragas reappointment rumor ( because, as even Waldo will admit, sometimes very inside people are told things that were never intended to be the truth) will it make Sullivan spend some of her new capital to get the Governor to promise not to reappoint?

    Once that conversation starts then it’s no longer about “if” Sullivan returns but to one of the conditions of her return. The one thing that seems to get little focus is what if Sullivan refuse to come back unless certain demands are met- I really don’t see that as a win for the Governor.

    The Governor’s 2 best outcomes are Sullivan returns and she does some of what Dragas outlined in the last Hill and Knowlton approved missive (a document that no one should dismiss out of hand) or Sullivan is gone and new leadership is brought in to implement changes that many want to see in higher ed in VA.

    All things being equal (and they very rarely are) having Sullivan back with less of her “incremental ” ways is the best outcome the Governor’s office. They probably now want Sullivan back but not at any cost. If Sullivan returns it will be interesting to hear the faculty’s celebration in their total victory only to have that golden moment be sullied moths later as those harsh economic conditions become part of a new Dragas-lite plan of action.

    At least the summer hasn’t started off dull.

  • I do think that Waldo’s points are well reasoned and logical. That does not make them true.

    Absolutely! I’m piling speculation atop facts of questionable provenience. :)

    If Sullivan returns it will be interesting to hear the faculty’s celebration in their total victory only to have that golden moment be sullied moths later as those harsh economic conditions become part of a new Dragas-lite plan of action.

    Short of some miraculous, overwhelming, instant economic recovery, she’s going to have to make cuts, and they’re going to make her unpopular. Sullivan’s current popularity is really a testament to how little she’s been able to get done (understandably) in the brief time that she’s been here. She just hasn’t had time to piss people off yet.

  • 1. Participants raised a question concerning how and when when a proposed appointment to the Board of Visitors by the Governor can become effective. The appointment of a Board member is not effective until confirmed by both Houses of the legislature.

    The Manual reads:

    “SECTION 2.2 COMPOSITION—The Board of Visitors is composed of sixteen members appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the Senate and the House of Delegates of Virginia, for terms of four years. *** A vacancy on the Board is filled by the Governor for the unexpired term, subject, of course, to confirmation by the Senate and the House of Delegates.***” (Emphasis supplied)

    The limited grant of power to the Governor, by requiring approval by both houses of the legislature, is not only explicitly stated, but explicitly stated twice. Moreover, to avoid any possible misunderstanding, the limited grant of power is emphasized in the strongest language possible–that vacancy appointments may be proposed, but are “subject, OF COURSE, to confirmation by the Senate and the House of Delegates.”

    A familiar analogy may be that federal judges are appointed by the President subject to approval by the Senate; a judge has no power in the interim.

    Note the language is “confirmation”–which emphasizes that filling the vacancy requires “confirmation”; there is no no concept or language of interim power. Through this language, the intent is clear that the legislature is to have a meaningful and decisive role before any important power is granted to a potential Board member. Further, the requirement of action by BOTH Houses could not be a more forceful statement of preservation of legislative prerogative and the value of very serious consideration in this vital area, namely state higher education at the University of Virginia.

    CONCLUSION: The Governor does not have a free hand in curing political problems he creates surrounding the composition of the UVA Board of Visitors. He can expect widespread, torrential political rain, district by district, if he is ham-handed in wiping out a previously weak Board, but then trying to stack it with cronies unrepresentative of and not clearly responsive to the key constituencies. Regardless of the outcome, the debilitating controversy would continue, and the roiling outcry would immediately disqualify him from Vice Presidential consideration.

    Combined with his unimaginable but memorable transvaginal excursion, the sustained firestorm created by his crony-stuffing following his Board wipe-out would certainly end his Vice-Presidential nomination hopes, and possibly re-election.

    His gruff barking tone in the letter can be interpreted as decisive–but perhaps more likely desperation to conceal the fact that if the Board does not solve the problem for him by the wee hours Tuesday, he is in a totally lose-lose situation.

    He is unlikely to reappoint Dragas anyway, for he then would truly would be a bull moose in a political china shop. In any case: a lose-lose for him as the sun rises Wednesday, created of course by Dragas, is unlikely to result in an appointment thank note to her when the Governor will need all the help he can get to escape what would then be the Real Deal of a Real Ordeal.

  • So based on what you’re saying, if he asked for resignations from the whole Board, he wouldn’t actually accept all of those resignations and start fresh or there’d be no Board of Visitors at a University with no real President for something like the next 6 months? He might just cull a few liberals from the Board to get what he wants…(are there any on there even? appointees like Dragas (Kaine) and Kington (Mark Warner originally) beg the question: is there a republican fifth column operating in VA democratic organizations? Anyway, good to know he can’t stick someone on the Board in Kington’s place tomorrow.

  • Are any steps being taken to ensure that the “open” session of Tuesday’s meeting will be held in a manner that actually makes it accessible to the public? It should not be held in an unreasonably small room in a closed building.

  • Expectations of openness, so well articulated by John Casteen, are required by more than ethics. Public agencies such as the Board of Visitors are regulated by state open meeting law. Government agencies all over the country routinely violated the law because people are unaware, enforcement can be difficult, and the time window for initiating corrective action is short. Enforcement usually requires complaint by a citizen filed with the proper agency (district attorney, attorney general, …), and sometimes a lawsuit.

    I live in California so I am familiar with California, not Virginia, law. Will someone who knows Virginia open meeting law please comment on whether it has provisions similar to what I describe below, and how it applies to Dragas actions? These matters are often murky. If there is a chance she has not followed the law, will someone who knows Virginia law please take action to get enforcement? If Virginia law does apply and Dragas and others are in violation, enforcement takes time and probably nothing can be done before next Tuesday. Even so, presentation of a clear case with the likelihood of eventual successful enforcement could guide Visitors who might be uncertain of the fundamental issues which underlie an acceptable course of action. If the law is clear, the choice is not a matter of judgment.

    I believe Dragas has evaded the principle of open meetings. I also suspect she may be unaware of the legal expectations of her behavior. Expectations for officials of public agencies are different from expectations for private businesses.

    A good outcome might be for Dragas to learn how the expectations of good leadership for officers of public agencies differ from what she was taught in the Darden School for leadership in private business. The differences are very significant and legitimate. It is not surprising for her and other Darden graduates to have confused the two forms of good leadership. For private business leadership, decisive action, and remaining steadfast with a decision in the face of public controversy, are virtues. For public agency leadership, action taken without broad input, and ignoring public sentiment, are vices; building consensus and satisfying public concerns are virtues. Participants on all sides of this controversy rightly consider themselves virtuous. The problem results from confusing the two concepts of virtue. An amicable solution could result from acknowledging this source of conflict, resolving the conflict by agreeing on which form of virtue is applicable, then correcting the actions of the Board of Visitors to restore its virtue as a public agency.

    Making everyone aware of the law and how it works (or is evaded) by government agencies such as city councils, school boards, water districts, and so on, is a benefit for all. The Board of Visitors is by no means the only government body with actions which are legitimately legally questionable. If an issue seems uncertain, ask for clarification in court. That is the purpose of courts. Realize that statements by officials or their legal experts that your case has no merit are frequently bluffs. The easiest way for them to win is to convince their opposition to give up without trying.

    In California open meeting and open records law, discussion leading to a decision by a public board must occur in an agendized meeting open to the public, with only a few very specific exceptions. In “serial meetings” individual board members are privately contacted to establish a majority board opinion. Since serial meetings cannot be public, they are prohibited. Personnel matters may be considered in closed session for privacy, but must be in open session if requested by the person under consideration. Actions by a board which are determined to violate open meeting law are declared invalid and rescinded. They can be considered again, but only in a legal open meeting. Easy to follow instruction manuals facilitate public participation in monitoring boards and requesting enforcement when board actions are in doubt.

    If Virginia code has similar provisions, Sullivan’s forced resignation may be invalid. Do Dragas’ emails discussing Sullivan’s removal or university policy constitute an illegal serial meeting? Was the June 10 executive meeting legally agendized? Was the presence of three executive board members a majority, or a supermajority if needed, of the actual six member executive committee of the Board? Was it legal for the Board to deny Sullivan’s request for a public, instead of closed, session on June 12?

    There must be someone in interested in this issue who knows Virginia open meeting law. Please inform us of how it applies, and initiate enforcement if appropriate.

  • A neighbor who works at Darden is very unhappy that Sullivan was not shown the door.

    I have heard that some, maybe many, maybe a few, were happy when Sullivan was asked to leave, even if they can agree the way it was done was sloppy .
    That they believe Sullivan had serious problems and wasn’t making changes fast enough. Could someone from Darden tell me specifically what changes were not occurring fast enough, what was Sullivan not doing that she should have been doing in the 2 years since she came.. We need to hear some specifics. Maybe we could agree if we knew what you think the problem was.

    Dragas has put out her 10 points, but they are not specific and are quite abstract and what actions should Sullivan have been taking ?

    Thank you for attempting to answer my question, I will listen carefully.

  • Kudos and thank you to Tom Ritch, who raises great points about whether Rector Dragas’ private canvassing of BOV members violated any Virginia laws [“open meeting,” etc.], and thereby might have invalidated a resignation so obtained. I ask any state lawyers who might know this answer to inform us all.
    Also, part of my brain likes Blockhead’s limerick from yesterday—
    • the Governor weighed in today
    here’s what he had to say-
    the trouble is deep
    but I’m running for Veep
    So please make it go away
    –which paints Der Guv’ner as simply hoping to keep backsplash from this mess off his higher office ambitions. ‘That sort of Governor’ probably wouldn’t object to what Dragas has tried to do, but would be peevish because in handling it so badly, she’s kicked the hornet’s nest. Which paints ‘that sort of Governor’ a bit in the light of Nixon, early on after the Watergate’s bungling burglars hit all the front pages.
    But another part of my brain wonders, “What if McDonnell sounds sternly annoyed because—like Nixon—he was more than just caught standing in the backsplash zone?” It seems not highly improbable that a Guv’ner whose slogan on the Virginia.gov website is “A Commonwealth of Opportunity” might approve a Dragas aim presented as trying to milk the UVa brand by offering high-enrollment Internet courses. That would sound pleasingly businesslife, if you didn’t examine the details (rampant cheating, very low course completion rates, dubious income stream given that other “elite schools” are beaming free courses), and it doesn’t take much imagining to have McDonnell saying to Dragas, “Go ahead, if the Board’s with you, and I won’t interfere.”
    Or, if you’ve got a Governor who likes the title “Veep” better, he might have wanted to keep up with the Scott Walkers in the hearts of the Far Right, which might have tempted him to lend more of a hand in planning, after which he could give Dragas his full proxy and himself some deniability (just in case), by making sure the coup was set to immediately precede his departure on a 10-day “Marketing, Economic Development, and Job Creation Mission” to Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain and Sweden, where all he’d be expected to express would be official surprise.
    We know that Dragas posed her “be fired or resign” ultimatum to President Sullivan on Friday the 8th and issued her stunning public announcement on Sunday morning the 10th. In between, since she has to report to the Governor, she may have—should have—informed McDonnell. He left on his “mission” Monday the 11th as the public storm broke. But on the evening of Saturday the 9th, he had been in Norfolk, addressing “OpSail 2012, the Virginia State Dinner and Governor’s Ball.” A bit curiously, that gathering, as listed on the Virginia.gov page for the Governor’s schedule, bears the asterisked notation “Please Note: This event is not open to the Press.”
    Now, were gown designs being protected from snooping cameras? No; you can see pictures from the ball. Were very private investment opportunities likely to be revealed in remarks made there? Search me. But it do make one wonder, just a bit, what members of the press were not supposed to hear that night. And whether there’s any tie-in to all this annoying disturbance at UVa.

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